The Lion King
: (Hans Zimmer/Elton John) The dominance of Walt Disney Pictures over its competitors could not have been any more evident than in 1994, when The Lion King
proved that the studio's success within the animated genre was not limited to just the Alan Menken phenomenon that had included The Little Mermaid
, Beauty and the Beast
, and Aladdin
in the prior five years. The coming of age tale for the young lion, Simba, overcame the limitations of dying two-dimensional animation techniques due to the appeal of its familiar story of family perseverance and its music, the latter a surprising departure from the normal animated musical sound of the time. The series of Disney's Menken projects continued to run its course for the studio over several more years, though after The Lion King
composer Hans Zimmer and songwriter/performer Elton John defected to Dreamworks for a few attempts to muster the same success later in the decade. The realm of Zimmer's Media Ventures music production house would be tapped quite often for animated pictures in the next two decades, sometimes yielding memorably entertaining results. While their collective work for The Lion King
exceeded the popularity of all the later Menken/Disney collaborations of the era, however, the 1994 entry proved to be something of a one-hit wonder given subsequent efforts' expectations. Despite their own unique qualities, The Prince of Egypt
and especially The Road to El Dorado
weren't as infectious to the mainstream as The Lion King
, which has spawned several sequels and a Broadway production. The film also arguably marked the high point in the animated genre for both Zimmer and John, though the famed singer receives most of the credit for the music's popularity. John's songs are indeed quite catchy, but of the five that he composed for the film, only one, the "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" rendition placed during the end titles, featured his own vocal performance on screen. Two additional performances by John were recorded to assist in driving album sales.
For enthusiasts of The Lion King
, the ensemble and individual cast performances of John's songs will remain far more entertaining because the vocal and instrumental arrangements of those songs fit perfectly with the tone of Zimmer's surrounding score. This continuity is one of the strongest aspects of the music for The Lion King
. The cast vocals themselves are a hit and miss prospect; bless Jeremy Irons for his deep, snarling voice, but he simply can't sing. The same argument could be made about Rowan Atkinson in the insufferable song, "I Just Can't Wait To Be King." But the arrangements by Zimmer and collaborator Mark Mancina for most songs place the performers against the same bass-heavy, robust African sound that defines the entire score, and this ambience saves most of the songs and is brilliant in the bookending "Circle of Life." Both John and Zimmer won Academy Awards for their efforts on The Lion King
, and while many more classically-inclined film score fans have disagreed with Zimmer's triumph over Thomas Newman and Alan Silvestri that year, this score does remain one of Zimmer's better and most popular. Its impact in the film is resounding in its majestic and beautiful instrumental accompaniment to the story's spiritual elements. For Zimmer, The Lion King
represented a maturation of two of the composer's distinct early mannerisms: his knack for capturing African spirit and his love for pronounced woodwind melodies. In the case of the former, Zimmer's work on the 1992 film The Power of One
directly led to his hiring on The Lion King
, and the earlier work could easily be termed the more authentic sister score to the Disney favorite. Zimmer was blacklisted in South Africa for having engaged in "subversive filmmaking" after The Power of One
, but the project solidified a collaboration with Lebo M that carried over directly to The Lion King
. When producing the 1994 animation score, Zimmer had to bring the African solo elements to him rather than travel again to South Africa, but this didn't deter him from using his music to further define the underlying sentiments of the continent, including, for some, the simmering racial elements that his music had always addressed.
Any collector of Zimmer's early works will recognize that the composer placed panpipe and other woodwind melodies for romantic elements in some of the most bizarre places (Days of Thunder
probably takes the cake), but his continuation of that technique functions beautifully in The Lion King
. Joining several prominent placements for flutes and oboe are Richard Harvey's absolutely gorgeous panpipe solos throughout the score, and it has been argued that his contribution alone provides the element of grace that catapulted this score's effectiveness; Harvey's woodwind performances for famous scores are better known than his own, often impressive compositional work for films and television. One of the remarkable aspects of this score is how the African and Western influences, the latter extending to somewhat sickly waltz movements for suspenseful moments (another connection to Zimmer's past), don't conflict with each other. The Lebo M ethnicity succeeds against the Western backdrop in the same way Menken and Howard Ashman accomplished for The Little Mermaid
, which spiced things up for its playful storied moments with a stylish calypso spirit. Other important choices from Zimmer in The Lion King
are led by his application of traditional choir, which is dominant in many of the score's most prominent sequences. Beyond the ethnically-style performances, these varied vocals are the highlights of the score, ranging from the mixed male and female contributions for the "ascension theme" to a continuous male-only bass hum that foreshadows, along with the original album's synthetic edge, the masculine approach to the following year's Crimson Tide
. Zimmer indulges his urge to brood with weighty colors in this score, but unlike his mannerisms of the 2000's and beyond, he is equally unafraid to spread out the soundscape to allow for substantial treble presence. This score's violin and flute lines are actually quite active in an accenting role at times, often embodied in the rhythmic movement of Simba's romps that will solicit some butt wiggling from listeners. While seemingly incongruous on paper, Zimmer pulls it off and the score benefits from a bright, bouncy personality in its more amiable moments.
The action and villain material is where the score for The Lion King
stumbles occasionally, restraining it from a full five-star rating. The action music relies heavily on the texture of the choir, chanting and shrieking during the scene of Mufasa's death and occasionally bursting forth with sudden accents that would reappear in Gladiator
. It's at times like this when Zimmer's transitions between the synthetic realm and his applications of real brass become muddy, not in the actual use of either, but rather in the harsh tones asked of, and mixed from, the real brass. There are occasional glimpses of vintage Zimmer action during "Elephant Graveyard" and elsewhere, mainly brief moments reminiscent of Black Rain
, which wasn't atypical for Zimmer at the time. The villain of The Lion King
is handled in very stereotypical fashion, though it's nice to hear the panpipe translated into a tolling chime for Scar's entry motif. Otherwise, Zimmer uses bassoons and saxophone in sleazy progressions to denote the villain's persona, and the slithery theme for Scar inhabits "Didn't Your Mother Tell You Not to Play With Your Food" at length before making cameo appearances early in "Hyenas in the Pride Land" and "The Rightful King." While it's interesting to hear the flute and trumpet interplays with this theme at the high end, perhaps to suggest the familial relation involved, the theme doesn't have the impact of the "Be Prepared" song melody itself. Zimmer, thankfully, does work the John melodies into his score at appropriate times, and the "Be Prepared" one in particular is foreshadowed on oboe early in the film's first score cue. Perhaps the best infusion of a song theme into the score comes at the end of "Hyenas in the Pride Land," when "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" receives an early hint on panpipes. There are several themes in the score that are independent of the songs, however, led by the aforementioned the score's main identity, the "ascension theme." This noble idea represents Simba's father, Mufasa, and in turn the position of king itself. Opening "We Are All Connected" with wondrous appeal and extending through "Kings of the Past" and the victorious finale of the score, this idea supplies all the score's majesty and yet maintains, in its primary phrases, distinct descending lines that share traits, intentionally or otherwise, with the melody of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight."
One of the aspects of this score that goes underpraised is Zimmer's multifaceted approach to his "ascension theme." As evidenced in "We Are All Connected" (or "This Land" or "Under the Stars," as the album's cue titles have changed through the years), Zimmer actually addresses this theme with two secondary supporting ideas. First, there's the stately fanfare for the actual kingdom at 0:58 into "We Are All Connected" that is expressed wistfully here but becomes larger than life at the conclusion of "The Rightful King." More commonly heard is the more serious identity for Mufasa and the obligation of the position, heard at 1:47 into "We Are All Connected" and handling the scenes requiring enhanced gravity in the music. You hear this portion of the theme expanded upon in "I Was Just Trying to Be Brave," including a slight rock percussion rendition at the end. The grandiose statements of this theme with choir are a close cousin to Zimmer's religiously massive portions of The Prince of Egypt
. Simba himself enjoys a playful theme that expresses itself with nearly reggae spirit in "Hyenas in the Pride Land," and while the character grows as necessary into the role of king at the end of the film, Zimmer allows this theme of youth and exuberance to explode with the African vocal ensemble at the opening of the end credits. Another theme of familial relations wafts throughout the score, opening and mingling with other identities in "Remember Who You Are" with pleasantly romantic tones. The score as a whole is a microcosm of a number of Zimmer trademarks of the early 1990's rolled into one work, usually for the better. Even enthusiasts of the composer's power anthem tendencies will hear some of the impressive rhythmic force of the likes of Backdraft
highlight the score's final presentation of the "ascension theme" at the closing of the film. Zimmer and Mancina's contributions to the arrangements of the songs, especially in the lovely interlude sequence late in "Circle of Life," allow him to easily slip references to those ideas into the score without missing a beat. One of the lingering problematic issues with the score's listenability on album is Zimmer's quick shifting between softly majestic performances and outbursts of the African vocal and percussion elements, a detriment that strikes in the final three major cues of the score. Likewise, there are inconsistencies in how Zimmer handles the dispatching of Scar in "The Rightful King" that allows his identity, the remnants of the waltz, and some of the action and suspense techniques to create a disjointed flow to the cue.
The additional problem any reviewer has when trying to analyze the score for The Lion King
, unfortunately, is that no truly satisfying album presentation of the music has ever existed. A 2014 "Legacy Collection" release from Disney finally solved this issue for many listeners, but even that is missing substantial recorded material that teased fans when it leaked over the years prior. Complicating matters is the fact that several versions of the same cues exist depending on whether Zimmer and his crew had replaced the original synthetic rendering of various parts of the orchestra with the performances of the live players. In the film itself, you don't really hear the synthetic versions very often. One exception is "Kings of the Past," which emulates the softly pretty keyboarded techniques of the composer's contemporary romantic comedy works. Conversely, the synthetic version of the brass seems especially pronounced on the original album release. Thus, depending on your preferences, you could maintain three or four presentations of this score and still have to do some significant rearranging to put things into your desired order and sound. In general, Zimmer has a tendency to remix and rearrange his music into album suites, thus forcing fans to seek the bootleg market when trying to find the mixes and cuts that actually made the film. Usually, this habit doesn't present too much of a problem, but with The Lion King
, the vast majority of material recorded for the project, whether it was used in the film or not, was neglected on Disney's original 1994 commercial product. That album contained 30 minutes of songs and 17 minutes of score, a surprisingly backwards ratio compared to other Disney product offerings for their popular musicals of the era. Granted, the arrangement provided for the album would suffice for the majority of the market that wasn't interested in the score to begin with, but significant demand existed for more of Zimmer's work, especially in the more orchestrally-heavy mix that actually made the film. Throughout the 2000's, Disney maintained that releasing additional score wouldn't be profitable enough for them, only including an extra cast song and a John remix for the "Special Edition" album that coincided with the film's DVD blitz in 2003. Generally, Zimmer fans had little to fear about such situations, because the Media Ventures/Remote Control kingdom is notorious for leaking material to the secondary collector's market (anytime you get so many people involved in so many projects, album-quality copies of the recording sessions are bound to walk out of the building). But for a long time, The Lion King
was a curious exception to that norm.
After years of substandard bootlegs, it wasn't until the 2010's when more satisfying recording sessions of The Lion King
began to reliably leak to that collector's market. The bootleg market for the score has always been very active, leading to a wide range of fan-created albums that vary greatly in quality and arrangement. To understand why this discrepancy exists, all you have to do is look at the variety of sources of the original material. The most widely available extra track came in the form of "Hyenas," which was included on international commercial releases of Disney's album. The vintage Hans Zimmer/Mark Mancina collaboration promotional CDs, titled "Follow your Dreams," also included some extra tracks, though two of these were simply the "Circle of Life" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" song arrangements without the cast vocals. These two tracks are very highly recommended to fans of the score, for they expose some of the masterful production work on the underlying instrumental accompaniment to those songs. Supposed "promotional" albums ranging from 55 to 60 minutes in length floated about the market in the early days; regardless of whether or not these albums were indeed Academy Award promos, they did serve as the basis for the bootlegs that would follow. Those bootlegs added cues directly from the recording sessions, including several alternative takes and cues that would be cut from the film (including Zimmer's original "Circle of Life" score track before it was replaced by the song, which still uses a Zimmer theme as its lovely interlude). Unfortunately, the additional material that would bring the bootlegs up to the 80-minute limit of a CD featured terrible mono sound. Several theories exist as to why these cues are so atrocious in quality, but whatever the real reason, all of the bootlegs, regardless of their arrangement, for years offered sound quality that jumps around as wildly as the animals in the film. While better quality recording session leaks, along with the official 2014 album from Disney, ultimately made these bootlegs less important, some listeners will want to continue to investigate them for their mix of the various stems of music recorded from the ensemble. For instance, on those bootlegs, the consecutive tracks "The Once and Future King" and "Plotting" are both crystal clear in quality and, along with the inspirational "Kings of the Past," were necessary additions to the score in that mix. The sound quality of "Pinned Again/Reunion," the film version of "Under the Stars," and "Simba Alive" is poor, but they are also worthy and impressive cues. Zimmer's respectfully pretty choral work in "This is My Home" was another highlight in those interim years.
One of the more intriguing side-stories of all the album releases for The Lion King
is that the music in the film is about 5 to 10% faster than it had been on the albums; this practice isn't unusual, but it's particularly noticeable in this score for some reason, especially for the hardcore fans of the film. For collectors who don't sweat the various of anomalies involving this score, the 2014 Disney album is definitely the way to go. It certainly does not contain all of the interesting alternate takes and mixes as heard on the score's other incarnations, and it cross fades tracks with disastrous results (as in the start of "Remember Who You Are"), but it does present the film versions of the songs and score that were featured on screen. A number of Zimmer's original (perhaps you could call them rejected) ideas are absent, as are the mixes of finalized cues that were popularized on the 1994 album. The composer was reportedly unhappy with the mixes that made up that product, and he insisted that they be tweaked from original stems for the 2014 release so that they better resembled his intent before former Media Ventures partner Jay Rifkin altered them in the 1990's. The result of these efforts for the 2014 product is a score that sounds significantly different from that presented earlier, even on the bootlegs. The voices and woodwinds have taken a more prominent place in the mix, while the synthetic element is almost gone and the percussion is driven further back. Brass tones are more organic, and the various accents seem better enunciated. It wouldn't be surprising if most listeners find this mix to be vastly superior to that on the prior albums, but there will undoubtedly be a few people who prefer Zimmer's electronic touch of the early 1990's. For them, Disney provides a second CD on the 2014 set with numerous demo recordings of the score (including a version of "We Are All Connected" with a phenomenal vocal and woodwind middle sequence), as well as an early concept for John's "Circle of Life" film version. That last track isn't the rejected score cue mentioned earlier in the review, unfortunately. A few additional rejected songs are thrown onto that addendum CD, along with John's three recordings. The 2014 product will be a fantastic addition for collectors already in possession of earlier leaked material, though be aware that you'll still have to make your own arrangements of the score to combine all of this material, as this popular and inspiring score still lacks a definitively satisfying album release. Decades later, The Lion King
remains one of Zimmer's most dynamic and emotional works, consolidating his early career sounds in ways that many fans wish he would have continued developing if the composer had chosen to maintain a solo career absent his eventual, unparalleled hype machine. **** Amazon.com Price Hunt: CD or Download
|Bias Check:||For Hans Zimmer reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating
is 3 (in 87 reviews)|
and the average viewer rating is 3.02
(in 263,096 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.
The inserts of the 1994 and 2003 commercial albums contain lyrics and extensive credits, but
no extra information about the score or film. The hardcover booklet of the 2014 2-CD set contains
the same information, but with notes about the soundtrack and film art from the film's producers and
quick notes from Zimmer about the demo score cues.